Declassified: US spying could top $50 billion in 2007
Jason Rhyne
Published: Tuesday October 30, 2007
Print This  Email This

The tab for US non-military spying in 2007 is a whopping $43.5 billion, according to figures released today by National Director of Intelligence Mike McConnell.

Disclosure of that amount marks the first time in nine years that funds budgeted for national intelligence activities have been publicly aired, and comes amid mounting pressure from Congress and the Sept. 11 commission to make the practice routine.

A more complete budget figure for US spying is actually even higher, according to sources cited in the Washington Post, who told the paper that if still-classified totals for military-based programs were factored in, that number would reach $50 billion.

“While the budget figure released by McConnell excludes intelligence programs for the separate military services,” reports the Post, “it includes the budgets of the CIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the FBI's intelligence programs, the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research and the major Defense Department intelligence collection agencies.”

The last time such figures were announced -- the spying budget including military spending was $26.5 billion in 1998 -- it took a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit from the Project of Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists to force their publication.

That organization’s director, Steven Aftergood, told RAW STORY Tuesday that revealing the cost of spying activities could cause a stir within intelligence circles.

“Disclosure of the intelligence budget figure may have significant repercussions for national security classification policy,” he said, “just because it was so strongly opposed by the intelligence community.”

Even after his group’s successful Freedom of Information Act action, Aftergood said “intelligence officials literally swore that any further disclosures would damage national security.”

He points to statements made by former CIA Director George Tenet, who told a federal court in 2003 that the intelligence budget was “of great interest to nations and non-state groups... wishing to calculate the strengths and weaknesses of the United States,” and went on to say that disclosure of a budget total could cause “serious damage” to the United States.

“Even historical budget information from half a century ago” shouldn’t be released, Aftergood said officials maintained, citing a statement to that effect from former US Deputy Director of Central Intelligence John McLaughlin, who in 2004 wrote that such material “must be withheld from public disclosure... because its release would tend to reveal intelligence methods."

“Now it appears that such information may safely be disclosed after all,” Aftergood said. “Because the new disclosure is so sharply at odds with past practice, it may introduce some positive instability into a recalcitrant classification system. The question implicitly arises, if intelligence officials were wrong to classify this information, what other records are they wrongly withholding?”

A news release from Director McConnell's office disclosing the new numbers, obtained by Aftergood, is available here.